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Post Politics Hour
washingtonpost.com's Daily Politics Discussion

Dan Balz
Washington Post Chief Political Reporter
Monday, May 19, 2008 11:00 AM

Don't want to miss out on the latest in politics? Start each day with The Post Politics Hour. Join in each weekday morning at 11 a.m. as a member of The Washington Post's team of White House and congressional reporters answers questions about the latest in buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.

Washington Post chief political reporter Dan Balz was online Monday, May 19 at 11 a.m. ET.

The transcript follows.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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Dan Balz: Good morning. Things look relatively quiet this morning on the eve of primaries in Oregon and Kentucky, save for the McCain campaign's effort to rid their operation of lobbyists. We'll get right to your questions.

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Boca Raton, Fla.: Do you think that race will be the decisive factor in the election battle between McCain and Obama?

Dan Balz: It'll be important, but I don't know that it will be decisive. Obviously race is a significant factor in this election -- as it is all our politics and society generally. By decisive, I assume you are asking can Barack Obama win in November -- and if he doesn't, will it be because of racism on the part of some voters? We know that for some voters, the issue of race is paramount in their decisions but for most it is not. It's far too early to assess its ultimate impact on the presidential race and very difficult to separate out from other factors that could influence the outcome.

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Houston: I've seen a bunch of stories the past couple of days about how Hillary Clinton's demise illustrates a glass ceiling for female politicians. Wasn't her undoing at least as much the result of a tactical misstep? She overspent in the early states and couldn't compete effectively for a period after Super Tuesday. After she fell behind, she couldn't catch up. Thoughts?

Dan Balz: Her campaign made any number of strategic mistakes, including the decision not to compete effectively in many of the caucus states. Her campaign misjudged how well she would do on Super Tuesday and how difficult it would be to catch up once she fell behind.

But there's no question that, for many women, her likely failure to win the nomination -- and the way she has been treated in the campaign by critics and by the media -- reinforces the idea that sexism remains a factor in society and politics.

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Alexandria, Va.: The "Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy" or "Republican Attack Machine" angle is surfacing in some media accounts, as interviewers ask Obama if he's up to the job of handling it. Was Obama's quick reaction to the Knesset speech meant to send a signal that he won't be taking guff? And is it possible media outlets are ignoring or underplaying left-wing independent-expenditure efforts as we go into the general?

Dan Balz: I would not ascribe questions of Obama about whether he is "up to the job" to any Republican attack machine. Hillary Clinton has asked the same questions throughout the Democratic nomination battle. It's a question that has been asked from the day he got into the race. Obviously, enough Democratic voters have decided he's ready to put him in reach of the nomination. As to your second question, I think the media pays about equal attention to "independent" groups on the right and left.

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Keyport, N.J.: Dan, do you think we will actually see those so-called Lincoln/Douglas-style debates between Obama and McCain this fall?

Dan Balz: We only can hope they'll do something like that. It would be refreshing to see the two candidates on the same stage together regularly this fall.

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Atlanta: To your earlier poster regarding Sen. Clinton and a supposed glass ceiling, Americans elect women governors and senators with ease; the fact that Sen. Clinton's campaign for the presidency appears not to have been successful isn't a sign that women can go no higher. To me, it's more an indication that the public is tired of political dynasty families. I would bet that if Jeb Bush had run, he would have failed similarly.

Dan Balz: That's a good point about women governors and senators as well. I'm not suggesting that her campaign means women can't shatter the ultimate glass ceiling, only that there are women who feel that she has been badly treated at points along the way in this campaign.

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Boonsboro, Md.: Obama quote: "What it says is that I'm not very well known in that part of the country," Obama said. "Sen. Clinton, I think, is much better known, coming from a nearby state of Arkansas. So it's not surprising that she would have an advantage in some of those states in the middle." How is Arkansas closer than Illinois, which actually borders Kentucky? And when will the press begin to focus on Obama's apparent ignorance or dishonesty?

Dan Balz: Southern Illinois is probably closer culturally Arkansas than it is to Chicago and Northern Illinois, and therefore Arkansas roots might count for more in connecting with some voters in Kentucky. Of course, Hillary Clinton is a native of the Chicago suburbs, so she's got both connections -- along with her New York roots now that she's in the Senate.

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Helena, Mont.: I would like to see a follow-up on the re-registrations of voters to the Democratic party in some of the states -- Pennsylvania comes to mind -- to see if the voters who registered as Democrats in order to vote in the primary then returned to their previous status (independent or Republican). Has there been anything from Pennsylvania papers on this? From papers in other states where this has happened?

Dan Balz: I haven't seen anything on this and it's probably too early for any conclusions to be drawn. My assumption is that papers in Pennsylvania or elsewhere may revisit this once the registration closes for the general election later in the year.

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Florida: You won't see an end to the perception that women can't be president until a strong female Republican candidate emerges, probably in 2012. The reason is simple: Republican primaries are about policies and issues, while the Democrats naturally focus on demographics and special interests. There's really no way Clinton's candidacy couldn't have been defined as "the first woman president," any more than Obama's could be defined any way other than "the first black president."

Dan Balz: Thanks for posting.

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Tick, tick, tick...: Care to predict when Clinton will concede? She stands a much better chance of looking gracious -- and helping her own future as well as the Democratic Party's future -- if she does not wait until June 3. How about tomorrow evening?

Dan Balz: I wouldn't expect her to quit the race tomorrow night. My guess is that she carries on through the remainder of the primaries. But I've been wrong before.

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Washington:"I think the media pays about equal attention to 'independent' groups on the right and left." Come on Dan, you can't believe that. Even though in the last presidential election, liberal group ads outnumbered conservative group adds four to one -- 80 percent to 20 percent -- the media still calls it swift-boating. Don't forget, it was MoveOn.org that started all these attack adds. I don't see how you can think the media plays it up evenly.

Dan Balz: The phrase "swift-boating" has entered the political lexicon because those attacks were extremely effective. But the MoveOn.org ad attacking "General Betray Us" got an enormous amount of attention at the time.

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Bowie, Md.: Good morning. If Hillary loses the primary, as it looks like she will, can she run as an independent?

Dan Balz: Sen. Clinton has made clear that, if she is not the nominee, she will support and work for Sen. Obama in the fall. She's a loyal Democrat and will back the Democratic ticket. Perhaps she'll even be on the Democratic ticket.

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Hampton, Va.: I thought Obama's spirited response to Bush's remarks in Israel was very telling. If Obama had kept his mouth shut, no one would have notice what Bush said. Frankly, decrying appeasement in front of Jews hardly is groundbreaking stuff. It looks like Obama is doing one of two things: he's establishing that any criticism of him, however muted, is out-of-line, or he's seriously worried that he's considered a foreign policy lightweight. What do you think?

Dan Balz: President Bush's comments were getting huge attention well before Sen. Obama fired back. In fact, Obama was slower to show his outrage than fellow Democrats like Sen. Joseph Biden. I think his campaign is determined to respond to any attack from the Republicans. That's standard practice. His advisers also know that one line of criticism from Sen. McCain is that Obama has inferior foreign policy and national security experience. That increases Obama's determination to answer back in a situation like we saw last week.

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Chicago: Good morning and thanks for chatting. I can understand why the Democrats are excited about winning Louisiana's 6th District and Mississippi's 1st District -- these are very red districts that have been in GOP hands for years. However, the Democratic candidates who won seem awfully conservative. Other than party label, were there any major differences between the winners and losers in these districts? How comfortable are the newly elected reps from these districts going to feel in the Democratic caucus in the House? What if the Democrats win 25-30 more seats in November and don't need the "blue dogs" to get a majority?

Dan Balz: Democrats have deliberately looked for candidates who fit the profile of the districts in which they're running. That's smart and has paid dividends, as it did in 2006. Any party that commands a big majority in the House will have members who are either more conservative or more liberal that the caucus generally. When Republicans were in the majority, they regularly had to plead with moderates from the Northeast to stay with them on key votes. Often they succeeded. Democrats, like the Republicans before them, would rather than a bigger majority, even if that means their members are spread wider on the ideological spectrum, than a slim majority--or no majority at all.

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Santa Cruz, Calif.: Hi Dan. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy day to do these very enlightening chats. I'm old enough to remember when you needed 51, not 60, votes in the U.S. Senate to get major legislation passed, except in rare "genuine filibuster" situations. Let's assume the Democrats win a big-time mandate in November -- presidency, 20-25 more representatives, and five or six more senators -- but their major legislative initiatives are being held up in the Senate. What do you think of the chances that the Democrats would do what the Republicans threatened a few years ago: rewrite the rules so that a simple majority gets legislation passed?

Dan Balz: That would be a very drastic step and I doubt that things would come to that. As you recall, the Republicans were talking about changing the rules specifically for judicial nominations, not all legislation. That was controversial enough. What you're suggesting would be the mega-nuclear option.

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Montgomery Village, MD: Dan, which fallout do you think will be greater from the McCain campaign resignations: the political or the organizational? These seem to be pretty highly placed, key individuals running what much earlier had been a disastrous campaign. Thanks for your insights.

washingtonpost.com: A Fifth Top Aide To McCain Resigns (Post, May 19)

Dan Balz: We'll have to see how the dust settles over at the McCain campaign. The new rules still leave a lot of questions unanswered and we're trying to follow up today with more reporting to figure out what it all means. He still has some people on the staff who were lobbyists and we're looking at the distinction that his campaign is drawing.

Obama does not take money from registered Washington lobbyists, but his campaign does not have a rule that is as stringent as McCain's new rule, or so it appears as we keep reporting on this.

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Alexandria, Va.: So McCain has told lobbyists on his campaign they must leave their jobs with their firms in order to stay on the campaign -- and everybody thinks this is great. I agree that for somebody facing the pressure he is, it is a right step, but I don't care about them on his campaign right now as much as I do about the time they are in their firm after a potential win. I'm surprised that more people are not commenting on that.

Dan Balz: Thanks for your comment.

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Trenton, N.J.: In the fall, can't McCain run against Obama and a Democratic Congress? I think many independents, myself included, are inclined to vote for Obama but view the prospect of a huge Democratic majority in both houses, coupled with a very liberal president, as a very dangerous thing. I frankly don't trust either party with all the power.

Dan Balz: At some point, McCain may well do that. In the closing days of the 1996 campaign, when it was apparent that Bob Dole had little chance of defeating Bill Clinton, Republicans ran ads urging voters to keep the House and Senate in Republican hands. This would be the reverse, with McCain saying to voters, if there is going to be a Democratic-controlled Congress, then voters should keep a Republican in the White House as a check against one-party government.

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Wokingham, U.K.: Does the exchange over appeasement indicate that a significant policy difference has opened up, with Obama seeking to retain the option of negotiating with Hamas and McCain binding himself to doing no such thing?

Dan Balz: Senator Obama has said he is not in favor of talking with Hamas until they recognize Israel's right to exist and renounce terrorism. He was critical of former President Jimmy Carter for his meeting a Hamas leader recently. So on that issue, there is not real difference between McCain and Obama.

Obama has said he would be willing to meet without conditions with leaders of hostile nations, such as Iran. McCain has been highly critical of that.

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Dan Balz: We're out of time. Thanks to everyone for participating today. Have a great week.

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washingtonpost.com: Discussion: Author Matt Taibbi on 'The Great Derangement' (washingtonpost.com, Live Now)

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